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Following Jesus can be a treacherous path of trying to change the world, as we see it, and running straight into the truth that we are, indeed, the one with the problem.  We need deliverance from:

  • … Our belief that it is up to us to change people.
  • … Our judgmental and legalistic ways.

Think about this:

In the beginning of Luke 19 – the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus.

(Raise your hand if you just started to sing “Zaccheaus was a wee little man, a wee little man, a wee little man was he!”)

Jesus is in Jericho and a crowd has gathered. The crooked tax collector Zaccheaus was there. He can’t see over the crowd so he climbs up a tree to see Jesus. In the middle of that crowd – which likely would have included more than a fair share of holy or influential or important or preferred or religious people – Jesus heads right for that tree and calls out to that guy – the one who is a social and religious outcast, ridiculously perched up in the branches – to come on down because Jesus wants to go to that guy’s house for supper.

Huh?   How do I explain that to my religious friends?

I mean, honestly.

  • Jesus always picks the wrong guy.

Of course, everyone in the crowd gets quite indignant, muttering among themselves about how Jesus is now the guest of a sinner. Not only did the guy betray his religion, Zacchaeus has betrayed his people, his nation, colluding with the powers that be for his own gain and oppressing the very people who were supposed to be his people.

Or how about the story of the town harlot of Samaria?   The infamous, “Woman at the Well”?  (John 4:1-42)  The longest conversation recorded of Jesus and one person was with this woman who had five husbands, and was with a guy she wasn’t married too when Jesus approached her.

There is our Jesus, sitting by a well…in forbidden Samaria.

Does anyone else see the humor in this story?

The town slut, (or Ho, Hussy, Loose, Sinner, etc. (as she would be called today) approaches Him.

Breaking the Christian rules with humility, grace and mercy

Image: Katie Bulmer

What?

Isn’t she hopeless and an embarrassment? And openly living in sin, (deep breath)!

Plus, Jesus, as a Jew, was not even supposed to be in Samaria, let alone talk to a woman, for heaven’s sake!!

That woman!!

We hate that woman!  Don’t we?  We can’t be seen talking to her.

  • Isn’t that breaking the rules?

Imagine if Jesus was in our world right now in the flesh,  and he heads right over to someone who cooperated with and benefitted from oppression of innocent people, someone who had traded integrity for political power, someone we distrust, someone who we feel is dangerous, someone who stole from people in a socially acceptable and governmentally blessed way, someone who took the very religious or national identity that we cherished and basically stomped all over it for his own gain.

I can think of a few already, but I won’t mention names.

Ugh. We hate that guy.

Don’t we?   I mean aren’t we supposed to keep ourselves clean by dissing those who are not living up to our standards as we interpret them?

Would we be murmuring and complaining and wondering about this Teacher who apparently had missed the important parts of the very Law he claims to teach.

Never mind He really came to fulfill the law Himself.

We don’t hang around with people like that, Jesus.  (Insert whine)

Don’t you know? Good people wouldn’t be caught dead with a man like that.

Just like we don’t hang around with women who are caught in the act of adultery, or fornication, and….

  • We don’t hang around with Samaritans,
  • We don’t hang around with powerless children,
  • We don’t hang around with women who have a bad reputation,
  • We don’t hang around with beggars or the poor or the oppressed or the criminal or the possessed or the socially marginalized or the ones who aren’t allowed to come to church with the good religious people, never!

Get it together, Jesus.

And, hey, news flash, we certainly don’t go to the personal home of a corrupt politician for a bite to eat or the apartment of the town prostitute for a cup of tea.

But Jesus does it anyway.

Jesus seems not to care about our who-is-in and who-is-out line in the sand. He doesn’t seem to care about what we think about all the wrong folks hanging around with him.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law but while also revealing the Love behind the Law, and the inadequacy of it, he came to replace the real love of a real God for their people.

Jesus came because God so loved the world.  After all, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in the book of John, it was because God so loved the world that Jesus came to us.

Jesus came, not to condemn the world but to save the world.

…Including the guy we would rather see condemned, to be honest.

How can we miss this?

Now take note of this fact:  because of an encounter with Jesus, Zaccheaus turns around gives half of everything away. He is so moved by Jesus, he vows to pay back anyone he has cheated four times the amount he stole.

The Samaritan woman?

Oh, she just became the first woman evangelist telling the whole town about Jesus.

Extravagant repentance.

Wild, reckless love for a man who was like no one they ever met.

They both were not just fulfilling the letter of the Law, they were repenting into the heart of Love Himself.

Looks like the presence of Jesus transforms everyone…even those of us who think we have it all together.

  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Zaccheaus was lost, Jesus sought him out, and in this moment of repentance – which was so much more than just money or position – he’s reoriented to the Kingdom of God.   The woman at the well discovered that her bucket could only be filled with Jesus, not a multitude of lost men.

Now that is something to get excited about!

  • Think of the word “today” in that passage. Jesus says “Today I must stay at your house” and then later “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The time is now.

We’d rather another day, another house, another time, another kind of sinner.  Don’t bother us with the now.

But today is the day for the wrong guy…or the wrong woman.

It’s perhaps telling, where we see ourselves in that story.

Are we the crowd, resentful and muttering because we think THAT PERSON shouldn’t be included because they aren’t righteous enough or holy enough or good enough or acceptable enough or just enough?

  • Do we have a long list of people we’d probably be pretty mad to see Jesus hanging out with in our world? Do we begrudge seeing Jesus head right to a certain house with a certain person?

We have our sort of people we want to keep out.

Sure, we’re okay with this kind of sinner being included –but not that kind.

But over and over, Jesus picks the wrong person in our eyes.

He even picks you, and me!

Or perhaps we see ourselves more in the one who everyone else wants to keep out.

 “Today, today, today, I’m coming to your house.

And all we can do is receive Jesus with such joy and relief.

And our own sin – everything that damages us and damages our relationship with God and damages our relationships with one another – is over!

We stop putting God into a box of our own self righteous rules and let Him do what He came to do.

…Love on all of us and see lives transformed.

So we turn everything in our lives upside down and inside out to be with Jesus, to be Him extended to everyone…not just those we think won’t contaminate us.

…To cooperate in making all things right, today.

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Grief over death is a tricky thing. It is different for everyone. It moves in a unique way in each of our lives. But we all know one thing for sure: our loved one is simply not here anymore.

What consoles us? Logic? Logic says everyone dies. Culture? Culture says many things, sometimes conflicting things. Time? Time dulls. Religion? Religion gives us advice. But what does God do? God gives us good news. Jesus died the death we should have died, rose again, and conquered death forever. And this is what consoles us.

Kellen Nichols had reservations about leading his first Missional Community group at the Austin Stone Community Church, but he knew God had called him to invest in a community that would serve one another and the Austin area. He said yes to God and leaned into one of his favorite quotes: “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.”

Kellen and his group of mostly extroverted and sociable twenty-somethings had no idea what sort of journey God would use to equip them for service, but they were ready to take it together.

In late April of 2013, Kellen Nichols received a call we all fear: his father was killed in a freak accident at work. In his grief, Kellen sent a text message to his Missional Community to notify them of his father’s passing. Moments later, he began to receive texts and phone calls in response. From that moment on, his community stepped up and became a physical picture of what it looked like to obey God’s command to “bear one another’s burdens.” During his five-hour drive from Austin to his home in Hemphill, Texas, Kellen felt God take the weight of his burden from his shoulders and evenly distribute it among the willing shoulders of his Missional Community.Bearing grief together as a community

Before his father’s funeral, Kellen received another phone call, one we would all welcome: his Missional Community wanted to know if they could attend the funeral to support him and his family during this time. Gratefully, Kellen agreed.

During the group’s trip to Hemphill, the environment in both cars slipped in and out of fervent prayer and levity. The friends prayed and laughed until they got lost in the piney woods of East Texas. However, being lost did not stop this crew from pulling over to take pictures. A smile stretched across Kellen’s face when he received the pictures via text message of the group gathered against the towering pine trees.Bearing grief together as a community

The Missional Community made it to the funeral service and Kellen felt strengthened by their prayers and presence. Kellen, his brother, and his sister delivered the eulogy and all three preached from the Scriptures boldly. The children wanted to pay their respects to their father, but the end goal of the service was to exalt God. And that was exactly what happened as they preached the gospel, piercing the hearts of their family and friends. God was at work, wooing his people to himself through the paradoxical pain of losing a father, friend, and family member, and the celebration of a godly man going home to be with his heavenly Father.

After the funeral service, the group asked Kellen if they could go with him to his house to fellowship, eat, and be with his family for the afternoon. Again, gratefully, he agreed. As his friends gathered around him and his family, they ate, laughed, cried, played bocce ball, and helped clean up after everyone headed home. Through this, Kellen’s mother saw the many ways in which the community served and loved Kellen, her family, and each other. God was still at work, softening her heart and wooing her closer to himself through Kellen’s community. Once the group left, Kellen remembers his mother crying, moved by the love she witnessed and experienced from his Missional CommunityBearing grief together as a community

For this light-hearted and fun group, the ride home would not be complete without writing and recording a rap song to send to Kellen. Again, a smile stretched across his face when he received their song via text message.

Back home in Austin, grief still moves in Kellen’s Missional Community, but the group still bears this grief together. And together they do not grieve as people without hope. Rather, they grieve as a people waiting for the day when Jesus will wipe the tears away from all of our faces forever.

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Jesus in HD Slider

Last week, I introduced you ever-so-briefly to the subject of shepherds. This because Jesus drew our attention to all-things sheep-and-shepherd-related when He defined Himself by saying, “I AM the door (gate) of the sheep.”

This week, in this PODCAST, we’ll discover together exactly what Jesus meant when He identified Himself as the “door of the sheep.”

The important point to remember from last week is this: Life for the shepherd was and is unpredictable and oh-so-difficult.

You might remember that when his or her world is rocked by undeserved trauma of some sort, a shepherd will never ask the question of God, “Why?” Or “Why me?” It is a given that life in the desert is tough, and that problems are the norm.

Shepherds “get it” — that in this world of ours, bad things do indeed happen. Bad things do indeed happen to good people. We live in a world where, as but one example, men are born blind. And as Jesus made crystal-clear in John 9, it has nothing to do with the man’s sins, or his parents’ for that matter, as assumed by the disciples who asked Jesus about that very thing.

In the thinking of a shepherd, the evidence of the blessing of God in someone’s life is NOT the absence of problems or pain. The evidence of God’s blessing is His peace-giving presence that shepherds us through our problems and pain.

As Peter (who knew his fair share of suffering and pain) completely understood, Jesus is and ever will be our “Shepherd, the Guardian of our souls.” (1 Peter 2:25) A shepherd who guards our souls not from trouble, but while we are in the midst of trouble — undeserved, unpredictable, oh-so-difficult problems and personal pain.

Given all of that, what then did Jesus mean when He identified Himself as the “door of the sheep”? More than you can possibly imagine.

To get us started, Let’s read from the Gospel of John,

“You (the healed blind man) were born a total sinner!” they (the religious leaders) answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue. (John 9:34)

…so He (Jesus) explained to them (His followers): “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. (John 10:7)

Now, as I said earlier, shepherds of any place or era know that life can be painful. Job, a shepherd himself, wrote:

People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire. (Job 5:7)

Life can be a grind, but God shepherds us through life’s pain.

The apostle Paul wrote so much in Romans 8:18-39,

18 I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 19 In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are.20 Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope 21 that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. 22 We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.

23 The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children. This means that our bodies will also be set free. 24 And this hope is what saves us. But if we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. 25 However, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it.

26 In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words.27 All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. 28 We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose,29 and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children. 30 God then accepted the people he had already decided to choose, and he has shared his glory with them.

31 What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? 

32 God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? 33 If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? 34 Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. 35 Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? 36 It is exactly as the Scriptures say,

“For you we face death
    all day long.
We are like sheep
on their way
    to be butchered.”

37 In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. 38 I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, 39 and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!

In light of Paul’s words, consider this: in John’s Gospel, Jesus invokes God’s exclusive name, I AM seven times, . Most often in metaphor: I am the Bread of Life; or I am the Light of the world… and in John 10:7, we get “I am the door” (and later in verse 14, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd”). This is in stark contrast to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who in John 9:34, kicked a recently healed man out of the synagogue, assuming his blindness came from his sin and therefore too dirty to step foot in the synagogue. They had deemed themselves “guards of the door” at the synagogue, and kept the poor man out, while Jesus declared Himself the gate, or door, to the sheep!

God spoke against this type of exploitation and harm through His prophet Jeremiah when he wrote:

Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:2)

God doesn’t think too highly of bad shepherds, does He? Not then nor now. Thankfully, we now have the BEST shepherd in Jesus Christ.

Image: Douglas Ramsey

Image: Douglas Ramsey

And, in relationship to us, the Bible has a lot to say about the nature of sheep, thus enforcing the great reason Jesus called Himself the good shepherd. For example, look at Psalm 95:7,

The Lord is our God,
    and we are his people,
    the sheep he takes care of
    in his own pasture.

Then there is Psalm 100:3,

You know the Lord is God!
He created us,
    and we belong to him;
    we are his people,
    the sheep in his pasture.

This is oh so comforting!

But it begs the question… why sheep? Why does God use sheep to describe us and the good shepherd to describe Himself?

First off, sheep are loveable, huggable and gentle. I have met shepherds who look upon their sheep as we might a beloved pet. HOWEVER, and perhaps you can see how this relates to you and me, sheep are also notoriously fragile and vulnerable. As a function of our very humanness, we are very vulnerable and fragile people. And God knows this.

If left on their own, sheep will die. They are not able to find their own food or water; they don’t realize how vulnerable they are to nature’s elements; they are prone to wander aimlessly and follow each other to their peril.

Without a good shepherd in our lives, we don’t stand a chance.

Sheep (we) are also very trusting. This serves sheep well when they are in the care of a good shepherd, but it also puts them at severe risk in the hands of an evil shepherd.

And, this isn’t exclusive to misleading pastors, but anyone who wears the moniker of “Christian”, and yet treats people in an unChristlike fashion, and more like a prosecuting attorney, lording their authority, or false and judgmental accusations upon the sheep they have been put in position to care for.

Back to sheep, their most overarching characteristic is that they are ever so prone to wander off and wander away, as Isaiah wrote:

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own. (Isaiah 53:6)

This also brings to mind Psalm 119:176,

I have wandered away like a lost sheep;
    come and find me,
    for I have not forgotten your commands.

Look, when we signed on to become a Christ-follower, this is a life-long venture. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon – a marathon that can last years and years if not decades upon decades. And it is so difficult to live in this world of ours with its banquet table of tempting “goodies” that may lead us astray like sheep. It’s challenging to maintain a vibrant and intimate walk with Jesus over a span of years. And, just like sheep, we are prone to walk away.

And since we are all so prone to wandering, perhaps we should be much more gracious to those in our respective folds who fall to the same temptations that confront us on a regular basis. Even the “best of us” can fall prey to “temporarily losing our minds” and go off the rails, in a spiritual sense; and make choices that boggle the mind.

But, we’re sheep. None of us are beyond the possibility of wandering away.

This is why a shepherd’s staff is curved at one end – so that when a sheep begins to wander, the shepherd can literally hook the lamb and guide it back to the fold.

This is why Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? (Luke 15:4)

That’s what a good shepherd does. He lovingly pursues wandering sheep in order to bring the lamb back to the safety of the shepherd’s fold.

“My people have been lost sheep.
    Their shepherds have led them astray
    and turned them loose in the mountains.
They have lost their way
    and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold. (Jeremiah 50:6)

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the perfect shepherd… repeatedly and compassionately pursuing us and reminding us how to get back to His sheepfold! And, just like sheep, we also live in a world that is filled with temptations and even dangers, as John wrote:

 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)

As committed Christ-followers, we are living in a harsh – even hostile – spiritual environment. We need a place of safety. Every lamb does and every shepherd knows this. This is why, in John 10:7, Jesus said,

“I am the gate (door) for the sheep.” 

You see, as shepherds and their sheep roam from place to place, searching for food and water, they would stop periodically and find a place to bed-down for the night. This is when the shepherd would construct his sheepfold. Sheepfolds were sturdy – built to last – not temporary structures like a pop-up tent. Over time, many of these sheepfolds would be constructed and left behind for another shepherd to come upon. They were often fairly easy to discover, as they were always built like a rock wall, in front of a cave. The cave would provide shelter, shade and cool from the heat, as well as insulation from the harsh nights or storms.

I also find it interesting that when Jesus was born, the One of whom John wrote, “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” was born in a manger… A CAVE!

Jesus was born in a sheepfold!

Another picture I treasure is what a shepherd would do at night. After bringing his fold into the sheepfold and making sure they were all in safe, the shepherd would protect them by night. The trick is this: there wasn’t a swinging, lockable door or gate at the mouth of the sheepfold, so the shepherd would lay down at the “gate”; meaning that he not only exposed himself to the elements of the night weather, but also to the predators that stalked in the night with aims to harm his sheep.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:9-10)

Jesus was the one and only one who has the right to let His sheep into His eternal sheepfold and guards them against thieves and predators. He healed, secured and then discipled the blind man in John 9, and He stands guard, compassionately pursing us even today.

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My Armor Slider 2

As I recently read 1 Peter 2, I realized Peter’s main point is this: Buck up, Cowboy! Figure it out! And just like I discovered in James’ epistle, there are things both in James and in Peter’s letters that are hard to hear, but very important for each of us to come face-to-face with. Here’s what I mean:

So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs. (1 Peter 2:1)

That is some challenging stuff! Most, if not all of us, have talked about people behind their backs… I know I have! Knowing this, Peter just says, “Hey! Knock it off!”

Now that you realize how kind the Lord has been to you, put away all evil, deception, envy, and fraud. Long to grow up into the fullness of your salvation; cry for this as a baby cries for his milk. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Imagine a baby crying for his milk because he needs that milk in order to survive! That’s what Peter is talking about here!

As the Scriptures express it, “See, I am sending Christ to be the carefully chosen, precious Cornerstone of my church, and I will never disappoint those who trust in him.” (1 Peter 2:6)

Notice that he doesn’t say, “God might sometimes disappoint those who trust in Him.” No, the Scripture is very clear that God will NEVER disappoint those who trust in Him! Now, I know… trust is a hard thing. Think about a relationship where somebody cheated on their spouse. Think about how hard it is to reconcile that relationship after the break of trust. Fear sets in. Anger flares.

And, in my summation, anger is not a real emotion. Anger is something we project that actually masks three VERY real emotions: pain, sadness, and fear. So, next time you find yourself angry, ask yourself, “What am I really feeling? What is it that I am either hurt by, sad about or fearful about?”

In 1 Peter, he also writes about letting your testimony be known, because your story is important. You may not see the full value of the story of the relationship between you and Jesus, but as Peter writes…

Yes, he is very precious to you who believe; and to those who reject him, well—“The same Stone that was rejected by the builders has become the Cornerstone, the most honored and important part of the building.” And the Scriptures also say, “He is the Stone that some will stumble over, and the Rock that will make them fall.” They will stumble because they will not listen to God’s Word nor obey it, and so this punishment must follow—that they will fall.  (1 Peter 2:7-8)

I find that so interesting – that Christ, Himself, can make people stumble. And, I have fallen. I have fallen so badly at times that I felt like the lady in the Life Alert commercials… “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

But, check out Peter’s encouraging words:

But you are not like that, for you have been chosen by God himself (1 Peter 2:9)

Did you know that?

If you are a Christian… a Believer… a Christ-follower… you have been chosen by God! The ninth chapter of Romans talks more about this, and it’s one of my favorite chapters of the Bible! Before you were even born, God knew you and He chose you. Now, there are some who believe that God looked down the corridors of time and saw that you were going to do be good, so He chose you.

But I don’t believe that.

I believe that, as we read in Romans 9, God did this not because of our own good works – in fact, if it were a result of our own good works, it wouldn’t be free… AND IT IS FREE.

Peter continues…

…you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own—all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (2 Peter 2:9)

So spread it! Share your story!! Now, I’m not talking about becoming one of those people who stand outside of Van Halen concerts with signs and sandwich boards shouting that everyone who enters the concert will burn in hell. I’m talking about simply telling people why you have the faith that you have and be able to share your story, without embarrassment, about your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Don’t be weird. Infiltrate, don’t isolate. Don’t be scary like “sandwich board” guy.

Once you were less than nothing; now you are God’s own. Once you knew very little of God’s kindness; now your very lives have been changed by it. (1 Peter 2:10)

That’s the story I’m talking about. That’s what you should be letting people know about.

Dear brothers, you are only visitors here. Since your real home is in heaven, I beg you to keep away from the evil pleasures of this world; they are not for you, for they fight against your very souls. (1 Peter 2:11)

Now, a lot of people might read this verse and glaze over it. And, part of the reason we often glaze over parts of the Bible is because we don’t want it to sink in. This is the heart of conviction.

So, what is Peter talking about here when he says “the evil pleasures of this world”? Porn. Sex outside of marriage. Substance abuse. Everything that is considered “evil pleasures”. You know what these are.

Be careful how you behave among your unsaved neighbors; for then, even if they are suspicious of you and talk against you, they will end up praising God for your good works when Christ returns. (1 Peter 2:12)

This might be the hardest part of the whole chapter!

It’s so easy to just slip back into the bad habits and bad behaviors that you once enjoyed. But, the key is to turn the volume up on the Holy Spirit so that that’s what you hear and pay attention to instead of the temptations that you are surrounded with.

Image: Spinal Tap Prod

Image: Spinal Tap Prod

But how do you turn up the volume on the Holy Spirit?

  1. Prayer
  2. Read God’s Word
  3. Spend time quietly meditating and listening to God
  4. Be obedient to God
  5. Spend time with other Christians

When you start to find yourself bombarded by troublesome thoughts, pray and ask God to change your thoughts from thinking about the temptations, fear, or sinful thoughts and instead about God and what it’s going to be like when you are with Him in heaven. Believe it or not, and I can say this from experience, this really does work!

 For the Lord’s sake, obey every law of your government: those of the king as head of the state, 14 and those of the king’s officers, for he has sent them to punish all who do wrong, and to honor those who do right.

15 It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who foolishly condemn the Gospel without knowing what it can do for them, having never experienced its power.16 You are free from the law, but that doesn’t mean you are free to do wrong. Live as those who are free to do only God’s will at all times. (1 Peter 2:13-16)

This part is really hard for many Christians today. And it’s crucial to our lives. We don’t go to heaven because we do good stuff. Nor do we go to hell because we do bad stuff.

When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all the sins of mankind then, before then, now, and in the future… and with it, He took on God’s punishment for those sins. Think about just the sins that you have committed in your own life. He paid for those… and for those of everyone else as well.

So, when I say, “you can’t behave good enough for heaven nor bad enough for hell”, what I mean is that Jesus paid the price for your sins… there’s nothing left for you to “pay” or do. In this same vein, there is no need for you to continually confess and say you’re sorry for the same sin over and over again, like so many people do.

Even what might be considered the “worst” sins: you’ve killed someone; you’ve had several abortions; you’ve robbed a bank; embezzled; stole from your parents… whatever it might be, once you have chosen to allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life and you repent of your sins, you are forgiven. It’s done.

If you continue to beat yourself up over something that you have confessed and repented for already, it’s like walking up to the foot of the cross, looking up at Jesus, with His hands and feet nailed to the cross with a crown of thorns piercing His head, as He bleeds, sweats, and suffocates, and saying to Him, “I’m sorry… that’s just not going to cut it for what I’ve done.”

Show respect for everyone. Love Christians everywhere. Fear God and honor the government.

18 Servants, you must respect your masters and do whatever they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are tough and cruel. 19 Praise the Lord if you are punished for doing right! 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong; but if you do right and suffer for it, and are patient beneath the blows, God is well pleased.

21 This suffering is all part of the work God has given you. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps: 22 He never sinned, never told a lie, 23 never answered back when insulted; when he suffered he did not threaten to get even; he left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. 24 He personally carried the load of our sins in his own body when he died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For his wounds have healed ours! 25 Like sheep you wandered away from God, but now you have returned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls who keeps you safe from all attacks. (1 Peter 2:17-25)

That’s the second chapter of 1 Peter. No matter how many times I read it, I’m convicted as if it’s my first time reading it.

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Spiritual attacks will happen no matter what. No matter what you’re up to, where you are, or who you’re around… if you are dedicated to serving God, you will be under attack.

Not that it was a spiritual attack, but I witnessed a huge fire today. A motor home sales lot saw their service center go up in smoke, and for a couple hours, things looked really dicey! The chaos of it all really made people anxious. Nearby drivers were filled with fear and anger, honking their horns (as if the people driving in front of them WANTED to park there on the road near the flames). And, as I’ve said before, anger is often the summation of hurt, sadness and fear… all rolled together.

Image: KUSI

Image: KUSI

What I found most interesting was, while I was caught up in all the traffic that surrounded the fire, I allowed a guy to enter into traffic in front of me, as he was exiting his apartment complex. It was just a simple, “Ok… it’s your turn to enter into this sea of slow moving cars with the rest of us.” But, what surprised me was his reaction. He looked straight at me and mouthed the words, “That was nice.”

Now, I’m not pointing this out for any personal glory or pats on the back. I just want to show one small example of how easy it really is in our busy, chaotic lives to stop for a second and do something cool. I mean, I’m willing to bet that the next time that that guy is in that situation, he’ll let somebody out onto the road just like I did.

As I read through the Bible, all I see is one passage after another telling us to love one another. Yet, what I saw as I drove around the fire-stricken area (it was located right in the middle of my town, and right alongside a major highway) all I saw was selfishness and anger.

What does this have to do with the Book of James? Maybe nothing, but it stood out in my week! Now, in regards to James, I think of Paul (no, Paul didn’t write James, Jesus’ half-brother James did). I picture Paul as he was writing his epistles sort of standing with his left arm across his chest and his right hand running through his beard… thinking… then sitting… and writing. However, James, I picture sitting very firmly and deliberately writing this stuff out. It’s very hard core.Apostle Rembrandt

Here’s an example in chapter five:

Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (James 5:1-4)

Man! If you’re wealthy, those are some tough words to hear! Now, there are other verses in the Bible that talk about wealthy people who gave to the Lord and served the Lord in very kind and gracious ways. Because it doesn’t matter how rich or poor we are, all of us can serve God.

James also hits home an amazing message just a few verses later in verse nine:

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9)

James doesn’t write like Paul. It’s very different than Romans, or Ephesians or Galatians… but it’s still God’s Word. And what is God’s Word good for? We see the answer to this question very plainly in 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right.17 It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone.

So, we know that men did the actual penmanship of the Bible, but God’s Word was actually breathed out to and through them. So, as you are reading the Bible, know that you are not just reading some guy’s words. You’re reading the very words that God breathed out and put into their fingers and in their minds!

Skipping down to verse twelve, we read:

But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (James 5:12)

What he’s saying here is that you don’t ever need to say to someone, when you are in an argument, “I swear to you. I swear on my kids. I swear on my mom. I swear on my grandma’s grave!” (and by the way… I’ve done this so many times).

You see, if we live honest lives, then a simple “yes” or “no” is sufficient, because everyone will know that the words that come out of your mouth are true. But, in order to achieve this level of honesty, you need the Holy Spirit.

But, how can we constantly be in communication with God throughout the entire day? By surrendering your daily lives to the Holy Spirit, it’s easier than you think.

It all comes down to the power of prayer.

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:13-14)

I know that this sounds a little weird by today’s American standards. I mean, if I’m sick wouldn’t a nice bowl of soup be nicer than pouring oil on me? But, it’s in the Bible – the New Testament, no less. And, we need to obey God’s Word.

Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. (James 5:15)

Now, this is the most “Catholic” part of the Bible I have ever read. In fact, growing up in the Catholic Church, I always struggled with, “Why am I telling my sins to a priest, when I could tell my sins directly to God?”

Yet, the next verse answers what I think Catholicism clings to in terms of why we confess to a priest.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

Now, I don’t believe that in order to receive forgiveness of our sins we need to confess to a priest, necessarily. Because, when Jesus died, God tore that cloth that hung between God and His people and said, “You don’t have to do that anymore.” We have direct access to the Lord now. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that we are now priests, ourselves.

James continues…

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:16-20)

That last paragraph… that’s what my friend Rob did for me.

I can only hope that I have done the same for other people over the years. It’s what we should strive for. If we are Christ-followers, we should be on the lookout for other Christians who have wandered away and ways to guide them back onto God’s path for their lives.

So, in summation, James 5 is telling us that we really need to be talking to other Christians, allowing them to be involved in our lives and us being involved in theirs.

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The best experience for my own comedy career came out of the Knoxville Comedy Theater, started up by my good friend Phil Glasgow, where we performed three shows a day (talk about a comedic work out)!  It forced me to learn how to hone my act into a tight, consistent performance.

But when I first met Phil, I had no idea that he was a Christian.  I just knew that he had access to some of the greatest golf courses, including Augusta National… at least he did.  Almost the second after I had to turn down Phil’s invitation to play the Master’s course, his friend who was a member passed away.  And I’ve never been invited to those hallowed greens since.

But it wasn’t all glitter and gold for Phil.

You see, earlier on – through his twenties – Phil experienced several ups and downs personally and in business, culminating to his marriage being an absolute mess by the time he turned 32.  It was then that he came face to face with God and chose to allow God to turn his life around.

(Maybe it was just God’s elaborate plan for Phil to lose his shirt in a comedy club just so that I could learn my trade)

From there, God took Phil on a journey that included real estate investments, golf course developments, he was the Vice President of Sales for Mary Kay Cosmetics, VP of a network security corporation, all adding up to a real comfortable life in Dallas, TX.

It was through this process that Phil recognized that God had called him to make a difference in the world.  One such way was to help promote and elevate a new type of stand up comedy at the time:  clean comedy.

And although he lost several billions of dollars in that Tennessee comedy club, Phil still contends that it was one of the greatest things to happen to his life.  Of course, he enjoyed the niceties that all that money was able to buy, but it pales in comparison to the maturity and perspectives that God has taught him and his wife over the years.

As a spectator of that season of Phil’s life, I found him and his wife nothing short of an inspiration as they never complained once even though money seemed to continually swirl down the tank.  They may have felt confused, but still set an amazing example of prayerful faith through tough times.

And it really was tough, not just on Phil and his wife, but Phil also felt responsible for his investment partners who lost money.  It’s one thing to know that you’re learning from life’s tough blows yourself, but it’s entirely something separate when you’re learning with someone else’s millions.  Yet, not one of them were actually concerned about their own losses, they were actually all more concerned about Phil.

You see, like Joseph in the Bible, Phil understood that God wanted to use him to do something significant in God’s Name, but kept seeing things go in a different direction that what he understood God’s plan to be.

And also like Joseph, Phil learned that he is not in control, but when you let God steer your life, great growth and blessings will abound.

Today, Phil is part of Links Players – a group of Christian men and women rooted in God’s word and growing at golf courses and country clubs around the world.

One thing Phil and other Links Players leaders have found is that many golfers lack a larger purpose and significance in their lives.  They also tend to possess an aversion to church going.  So, why not bring God’s teachings and discipleship to the golf courses where these men and women spend so much time searching (for a purpose-filled life and their tee-shots)?

It was exactly this method of reaching out and revealing who God is while out on the fairway that Phil began to impact my life and marriage, simply by pointing me toward God and encouraging me to let God go to work.

For more laughs and insights, check out JeffAllenComedy.com

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The best experience for my own comedy career came out of the Knoxville Comedy Theater, started up by my good friend Phil Glasgow, where we performed three shows a day (talk about a comedic work out)!  It forced me to learn how to hone my act into a tight, consistent performance.

But it wasn’t all glitter and gold for Phil. 

You see, earlier on – through his twenties – Phil experienced several ups and downs personally and in business, culminating to his marriage being an absolute mess by the time he turned 32.  It was then that he came face to face with God and chose to allow God to turn his life around. 

It was through this process that Phil recognized that God had called him to make a difference in the world.  One such way was to help promote and elevate a new type of stand up comedy at the time:  clean comedy.

And although he lost several billions of dollars in that Tennessee comedy club, Phil still contends that it was one of the greatest things to happen to his life.

As a spectator of this season of Phil’s life, I found him and his wife nothing short of an inspiration as they never complained once as money seemed to continually swirl down the tank.  They may have felt confused, but still set an amazing example of prayerful faith through tough times.

You see, like Joseph in the Bible, Phil understood that God wanted to use him to do something significant in His Name, but kept seeing things go in a different direction that what he understood God’s plan to be.

And also like Joseph, Phil learned that he is not in control, but when you let God steer your life, great growth and blessings will abound.

Today, Phil is part of Links Players – a group of Christian men and women rooted in God’s word and growing at golf courses and country clubs around the world.

One thing Phil and other Links Players leaders have found is that many golfers lack a larger purpose and significance in their lives.  They also tend to possess an aversion to church going.  So, why not bring God’s teachings and discipleship to the golf courses where these men and women spend so much time searching (for a purpose-filled life and their tee-shots)?

It was exactly this method of reaching out and revealing who God is while out on the fairway that Phil began to impact my life and marriage, simply by pointing me toward God and encouraging me to let God go to work.

For more laughs and insights, check out JeffAllenComedy.com

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In John 1:35-51, Jesus begins to form His group of disciples – the men who would soon after change the world in His name.  But as we read, notice how He approaches some of them differently than others:

The First Disciples

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Mosesand the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”

Some people are drawn to Christ at differing stage in their lives.  For Andrew and John, they were pointed toward Jesus by John the Baptist.  Jesus then offered to them, “Come and see.”

For some of us today, we simply need to come and see the community, fellowship and love that grows within a body of believers.  And just like these two, many of us are drawn to Jesus simply by coming and seeing what is going on.

Following this, Andrew went to tell his brother, Simon Peter, about Jesus.

Upon meeting Simon Peter, Jesus changed his name, identity and future by prophesying over him in a single, life altering moment.

The next day, Jesus sought out Philip and told Philip to follow Him.

Later, Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus.  Despite his initial doubt – “How could anything good come fro Nazareth?” – Nathaniel went along with Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel, he proved that He is the Son of God and King of Israel.

Similarly, today Jesus interacts with different people in different ways:  some He simply says, “Come and see”; for others, He dramatically changes their lives in a single moment; some He intentionally sets out for and calls; some He proves Himself beyond their doubt.

The key for us to remember is that Jesus was and is the Son of God.  And the way he dealt with people then is the same way He deals with us today.

For more information about Matt’s ministry, visit www.RanchodelReyChurch.org

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